Death is a five-letter word, but it may as well be a four letter word to many Americans. We don’t like talking about our eventual demise or planning for it. Far less than 50% of Americans have a clear end of life plan.
My father was the same way. I remember he shut down any conversation about him passing. Unfortunately, that didn’t allow him to live forever. The truth is we will all depart this life whether we like it or not.
I visited my dad a little while ago at the Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Glendale, New York. It was the first I had visited in about five years. My dad was my best friend, and his crossing of the rainbow bridge was a surprise and the worst thing that ever happened to me.
But I decided it was time to visit him because I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.
You see, I came across a statistic that shocked me. It turns out that most Americans departing our world these days won’t have a traditional burial and funeral like my father did.
Less than 40% are now being traditionally buried. A majority of Americans (about 55%) leaving this world are now being cremated compared to only about a fifth of Americans three decades ago. That’s according to the Cremation Association of North America and the National Funeral Directors Association. And this trend is seen throughout much of the western world.
I wanted to find out why, which is the reason I explored the topic in this week’s episode of my new “Margins of Error” podcast.
Each week, we discuss topics that seem to be on the margins at first glance but that are actually where knowledge and discovery really begin. The most recent episodes covered the battle over daylight saving time and the potential benefits of partners sleeping in separate beds.
This week’s topic may seem a little darker, but I promise you’ll laugh along the way as we think outside the box (pun intended).
What I discovered on my journey about cremation is how many different but intersecting trends emerged from the debate over cremation vs. burial.
The most obvious is how everything is simply getting more and more expensive in America. Most people may not like to talk about death, but it’s a big business.
The cost of a traditional funeral and burial can run upwards of $10,000. Cremation can cost a tenth as much, depending on the package.
Additionally, increasing environmental consciousness in this country has made cremation a far more attractive option for some.
However, this week’s episode may make you think twice about that.
The cremation debate is one where things aren’t so immediately obvious. It’s one of the few topics on which there is very little political divide. Look at the states that have the highest cremation rates and the lowest; you won’t find much correlation with the 2020 presidential map.
Instead, cremation rates tend to be highest across a politically diverse set of regions and states: Florida, northern New England and the West.
Why? You’ll have to tune into this week’s episode to find out.
Indeed, I hope you’ll take a listen because whether you decide to be buried, cremated or something else, it’s a reality everyone will face. As for my preference, I don’t really care. I’d probably donate my body to science for research. But, unlike my father, I don’t fear death. I’ve had a good run.
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